On Feb. 9, community members are invited to have snacks, drink coffee and talk about dying at a “death cafe” at the Community Home Health and Hospice in Longview.
The free cafe is a partnership between Community Home Health and Hospice and Meagan Hope, the Vancouver-based owner of the end-of-life services business Bridges.
Hope said she first heard of death cafes when she was training to be an end-of-life doula. (A doula is a non-medical companion who supports another individual through a significant health-related experience, such as childbirth, miscarriage, stillbirth or dying.)
Hope attended a death cafe in Vancouver. While she wasn’t sure what to think at first, she walked away “invigorated.”
“I couldn’t believe I was walking away feeling so alive,” Hope said. “It’s actually not morbid. Yes, some people have tears, and some people have honestly never experienced death. It’s a range of experiences there so that you just walk away with a really interesting perspective.”
Hope said she quickly decided that she wanted to host her own death cafe and partnered with Community Home Health and Hospice to do so in Vancouver. They will host a handful of death cafes throughout the year, bu Feb. 9 event is the only one planned in Longview so far, she said.
As an end-of-life doula, Hope provides non-medical practical, spiritual and emotional support to the dying and their families. She said she often starts working with people before they enter hospice and she acts as a compliment to traditional hospice services.
She helps with tasks such as creating advance directives, making a plan for how they want their final days to be handled and making sure family members know where important documents and passwords are.
“Oftentimes they have things that need to get done as we prepare for death,” Hope said. “It’s that checklist of stuff that a lot of us avoid even when healthy and thriving ... all these things your family will really need to know to make that transition easier on the person dying and family as they’re grieving.”
Hope said death cafes have been around for about a decade, and are now held in 60 countries. They’re all based on the guidelines of John Underwood, who held the first death cafe in the United Kingdom.
“So many people, when they have someone in their life that’s dying, that’s when they get this crash course on death. Death cafes are just one other thing we can offer to the community to get people to talk about it and then maybe take action in their lives.”
There’s no agenda at a death cafe, Hope said, and it’s not a support group. Instead, people sit at tables and simply talk about death.
“There are people who are very comfortable with death and some you can tell it’s a very hard topic to talk about,” Hope said. “It’s a way of dipping your toes in. It’s a good way to open the door on the topic of death.”
Hope said she runs the death cafe potluck style, so attendees are encouraged to bring something to share. She said she’s also looking for volunteers to act as facilitators at tables. They’re in charge of getting the conversation started by introducing themselves and making sure the conversation stays respectful and on track.
Anyone interested in volunteering should email Hope at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next short online volunteer training will be at 7 p.m. on Jan. 7.
Community Home Health and Hospice Longview is at 1035 11th Ave. The death cafe will start promptly at 3 p.m. and run until 5 p.m. RSVP’s are encouraged at bit.ly/Feb9DeathCafe but not required.
Hope said she thinks she will hold more death cafes in the Longview area in the future, but she’s starting with one for now. She said she thinks February’s cafe will be well-attended.
“I really hope this continues to expand. I’ve been able to see what happened in Portland. PDX Death Cafes has been around since 2013 and it’s amazing,” Hope said. “It really took off, and I see that need on this side of the river, too.”
For more information, email Hope or go on Facebook to SW Washington Death Cafe.